Trading Rules revisions

With the New Year rapidly approaching, I’ve redone my Trading Rules linked to on the top menu bar so that they match the practices I’ve developed over the fall and the first week of winter. They seem to have stabilized at this point; I can’t see any changes that I want to make immediately, although that’s not a promise for the future. Here are the new rules: Options first, then stocks. Enjoy.

Levels of Risk

Risk is everywhere. There is, in reality, nowhere without risk. Every thought can trigger risk. Every act can be risky. Every result, happy or sad, is a balance between risk and reward.

Keeping risk in mind, I have divided my holdings into three levels: No risk, low risk, mid-risk, and high risk. See the About page for more.

For any trade, low risk to high risk, there are two rules that rule them all:

  1. Have a defined rule for entering a position.
  2. Have a defined rule for exiting a position.

I’ve traded outside of those universal rules on occasion, and have always regretted it.

Outside of the two universal rules, only the mid-risk and high-risk positions have formal rulesets, and those are what I shall discuss here:

  1. High Risk: Options Contracts
  2. Mid-Risk: Momentum Trades of Shares
  3. Mid-Risk: Managed Shares


High Risk: Options Contracts

My options trading rules are straight out of research conducted by Tom Sosnoff‘s Tastytrade financial network, with the exception of the exits rules, where I’ve expanded on his methods. The rules are intended for smaller accounts, and has the goal of many base hits rather than the occasional home run amid a lot of strikeouts.

Trading Rules

Positions: Short vertical or iron condor spread.

  • Set the short leg or legs someone from delta 16 to 30. The higher the delta, the greater the risk and the smaller the odds of success.
  • Select an underlying stock whose Implied Volatility Rank (IVR) is 25% or greater. The higher the IVR, the greater the potential return. (This is similar to the IV Percentile found on many trading platforms.)
  • Set the width of the wings so as to be as close as possible to a third of the credit received.

Entry timing: As close as possible to 45 days prior to expiration, giving preference to monthly options. Generally, I won’t enter after 43 days prior to expiration.

Due diligence before entry:

  • Avoid earnings announcements
  • Avoid ex-dividend days
  • Ensure that the potential loss is within the trader’s guidelines for managing trading funds.

Exit rules:

  • Up to 21 days prior to the options expiration
    • Profitable trades:
      • Exit at 50% of maximum potential profit, calculated as this way:
        • (credit_received – current_debit) / credit_received
        • where credit received is maximum potential profit and current debit is the cost of exiting the position. If it’s negative, the position is a losing one at present.
  • 21 days or fewer prior to the options’ expiration
      • Exit if the position is profitable, even if minimally so
      • Hold an unprofitable position until
        • It becomes profitable, even minimally so, or
        • It expires unprofitably.


Mid-Risk: Share Trades

This strategy relies on a rule-based evaluation for the selection of stocks and on a 20% trailing stop/loss for the exit signal.

I divide my holdings and trading decisions into portfolios, depending upon the method used to evaluate potential additions.

My portfolios are divided into two sorts.

Strategy portfolios use a search of a category of stocks for a symbol that meets certain criteria corresponding with a strategy. I have three strategies that I use:

  • Growth, which relies on ratings changes given my market analysts.
  • Momentum, which relies on the rate of change over several lengths of time.
  • Value, which relies on the financial performance of the company compared to the price of its stock.

A second sort of portfolio, a watchlist portfolio, takes a relatively small list of stocks and trades those that meet general criteria according to one system or another.

At present I have only one such portfolio: Genetics. It was constructed based on the ARKG exchange-traded funds holdings.

Depending upon the rules, all of this can be done by the trader without relying on the analysis of others. For convenience, I’ve chosen to rely on the analysis aggregator Zacks  to provide the ratings of stocks that I use in making decisions.

Zacks uses analyst ratings on their primary method, using earnings forecasts to select from their already screened pool. Their method boils everything down to a numerical rank: 1 for strong buy, 2 for buy, 3 for neutral, 4 for sell and 5 for strong sell. The rating is relative: The top 5% of their stock pool gets a 1 ranks, as does the bottom 5%. The 2 and 4 ranks each get 15% of the pool, and the 3 rank gets the remaining 60%. So the ranks aren’t objectively good or bad, but only in relation to the rest of the approximately 10,000 stocks the company tracks.

For my strategy portfolios, I require that stocks have a Zacks rank of 1 for entry, and I exit that day if it drops away from the strong buy level. For my watchlist portfolios, I’ll requires a Zacks 1 or 2 rank for entry, with exit rules if that changes to a neutral or sell rank.

Upon buying the stock, set a trailing stop/loss for 20% below the fill price as the condition for exit. 

The stop/loss rule was based on three research papers:

Han, Yufeng and Zhou, Guofu and Zhu, Yingzi, Taming Momentum Crashes: A Simple Stop-Loss Strategy (September 24, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Yusupov, Garib and Shorrason, Bergsveinn, Performance of Stop-Loss Rules vs. Buy-and-Hold Strategy (2009). Available at Lund University:

Kaminski, Kathryn and Lo, Andrew W., When Do Stop-Loss Rules Stop Losses? (January 3, 2007). EFA 2007 Ljubljana Meetings Paper. Available at SSRN: or

The Zacks rank method presents trades almost every day, as stocks fail to qualify and new stocks qualify to take their place. A no-commission brokerage, which includes the pioneering Robinhood and the major brokerages such as E-Trade and TD Ameritrade that have followed in Robinhood’s footsteps, makes such rapid trading possible. A brokerage that charges commissions would require a different approach.

Zacks makes its ranks for individual stocks freely available, and that is sufficient for managing a small watchlist portfolio.

For example, in creating my Genetics Portfolio, I took the holdings of the ARKG exchange-traded fund — 37 stocks — and within Zacks created a portfolio containing those symbols. The portfolio includes up-to-date rankings for each symbol. Just by pulling up the portfolio and sorting on rank, I can instantly see what the tradable stocks are and compare it with what I already hold. At this writing I hold all nine qualifying stocks.

For my strategy portfolios, which scans the entirely of the massive Zacks stock pool, it’s necessary that I be able to run queries against their databased, and for that I need a premium account, costing an annual subscription of $249. Traders with small accounts will do better by using the watchlist method, thereby avoiding the overhead.

The subscription works out to $20.75 a month, and I’ve entered about 30 positions in the current month, so divide by 60 — once for entry and again for exit — and it works out to a 35 cent premium per trade. Not such a bad deal, considering that in the bad old days of last spring, the commissions would have been at least $13 total for each position.

By Tim Bovee, December 28, 2019, Portland, Oregon


Tim Bovee, Private Trader tracks the analysis and trades of a private trader for his own accounts. Nothing in this blog constitutes a recommendation to buy or sell stocks, options or any other financial instrument. The only purpose of this blog is to provide education and entertainment.

No trader is ever 100 percent successful in his or her trades. Trading in the stock and option markets is risky and uncertain. Each trader must make trading decisions for his or her own account, and take responsibility for the consequences.

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